Living in Nature’s Encircling Love

By Sharifa Oppenheimer

For the young child especially, but for all children as well, it is a rich life-lesson to experience “whole process learning.” We live in a fast-paced, fragmented world;  how does a child have the opportunity to live-into the whole-process experiences that nature provides?  We can offer these to the children in our LifeWays programs!

In the fall, The Rose Garden families go to a local apple orchard. To simply be present with the crisp fresh air, the warm sun ripening juicy apples, the bees buzzing and crickets chirping, while children run and play with apple-juicy smiles is a rare gift.  This is just the beginning of the whole process.  We then bring the apples “home” to school, process and cook them into apple butter to eat with their home-baked Harvest Loaf at festival time.  Weekly, after the festival, we eat the apple butter with our fresh baked bread.  It is not unusual for the children to chat at the table, remembering the whole-body joy and communion with the natural world they felt at the orchard.  We also plant bulbs in the fall, digging in the rich forest loam, and placing the living bulb just-so in its little brown bed; months later the children jump for joy to see them peeking through the late winter snow!

Activities as simple as picking apples, then working at a shady picnic table day after day to process the apple butter, or using growing muscles to dig a bed for an autumn bulb give living opportunities for children to experience communion with the fundamental elements of creation: Earth, Water, Fire and Air. These joyous whole-process lessons in the natural world also teach endurance, patience and the reward of caring-for.

When children live in the round of the seasons, as Earth moves slowly through her journey around the sun, their souls recognize this round movement, as well.  Today we marvel at a flock of goldfinches, eager at the feeder just outside the kitchen window.  Last summer we found a baby turtle on the playground; in the fall we discovered a nest of tiny salamander babies with their mama, snug beneath a fallen log.  What is born of this is the knowledge that we are part of a mysterious unity that holds us, cares for us and sustains us all.  This can grow into the child’s own desire to hold, care for and sustain life itself.   In these simple, nature-imbued ways, the child is held in the circling love, –  the whole-process –  that we call Life!


Sharifa Oppenheimer was the founding teacher of the Charlottesville Waldorf School and the Founder and Director of The Rose Garden, a Waldorf-based home program.  She is the author of Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children,  How To Create the Star of Your Family Culture: The Heaven on Earth Workbook, and she compiled and introduced What is a Waldorf Kindergarten.  She currently teaches for LifeWays and travels offering lectures and workshops encouraging families to create their own unique family culture.